We last heard music from Joel. (aka MaG) on his 2013 release (via RCRDLBL) Freedom, a soulful slice of American hip-hop. He didn’t go silent between then and now – those who follow him on Twitter know that Joel is a poet and a non-stop thinker, with an eye toward social progress and absolutely no patience for bullshit.
It’s no surprise to find that same spirit in the music he’s been working on. songs for charles is an independent release dropped just last month, and it kicks off with a short audio clip from Jay Z in the studio, taken from the film Fade To Black. This track, titled “what Hov said…(intro),” captures Jay discussing young rappers coming up; artists who believe they have to write about things they don’t feel and don’t know. He tells the cameraman to put the lens on him before saying, “See what y’all did to rappers? They scared to be theyself.”
Being true to himself, then, serves as Joel.’s mission here. “I can’t speak for no one else / but I’m gonna keep on being myself,” goes one of the refrains on the first song, “creston and 188th.” What follows is a personal catharsis. The next eight songs are all at least rooted in the past, even while facing the present. He looks back on his upbringing, his family, lessons learned and carried forward. “We was young / we was reckless,” he says, in the frank and unsentimental “hash browns.” The chilled out, hypnotic loop of the song keeps the mood static and, as much as the lyric, creates a vivid atmosphere, if not an especially warm one. It actually feels like a carefully constructed sound collage, pieced together from ‘70s-‘80s AM radio dials, video games, cassettes rewinding…the sounds of a childhood, running in the background.
“new, new york” brings us into the present, or at least the very recent past. But each track here, just like real life, builds on what came before. That’s why, even though this is an eight-song collection (nine tracks), I take songs for charles as a real album. It’s not a mixtape, nor a collection of singles. It’s a thematic, narrative flow. And, like a lot of Joel.’s work, it’s densely filled with imagery and wordplay, and almost has the feel of a stage play. With only a few listens so far, I have not absorbed every nuance, but I look forward to trying.
“better late than never (intermission)” is a dreamy flight, with a backing that sounds like recent Radiohead; droning chords bracing syncopated, jazz drums. The lyric is equal parts past, present, and future, and how they are helplessly intertwined, with a hook that declares, “I’d rather die than let go of one of my dreams / one foot forward, all I gotta do is proceed…It’s never too late to dream.” Hope continues to be a central theme here – aspirations for a better life, one that’s more fulfilling, one that is free from the troubled past, and one where glory is attained on no one else’s terms but your own.
Certainly Joel. knows there’s no complete escape from what came before. But songs for charles is at least an attempt at exorcism. Facing pain in stark terms, he describes a present in which personal reconciliation is already under way, and this music – in all its expressive, subtle complexity – is the conduit.
Remember when Rutgers University offered a class on the theology of Bruce Springsteen? That was pretty wild, right? Well now the university that brought you insight into the Boss is giving interested students the chance to dissect “American race, gender and sexual politics” through Beyoncé’s music and unfolding career.
“This isn’t a course about Beyoncé’s political engagement or how many times she performed during President Obama‘s inauguration weekend,” explains Kevin Allred, the Ph.D student who will be teaching the class. The course will take a look at music videos, lyrics, and the strategy behind Beyoncé’s portrayal of her music. “It’s important to shift students away from simply being consumers of media toward thinking more critically about what they’re engaging on a regular basis.” Allred said.
In what seems to be a new trend, the school will also offer a course for Jay-Z fanatics titled, “The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay-Z.”
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I feel like I might still be watching the Grammys. Is it still on? I can no longer distinguish the Grammys from reality. It was so long that the much-hyped finale, featuring Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, and Fleetwood Mac‘s Lindsey Buckingham, was like a minute in when the producers lowered the curtain in the form of promo ads for Delta and Hilton before running the credits and then just cutting out entirely. That was ridiculous, especially for those of us who hung in, thinking, ‘well, at least there’s still the finale to see.’
Do you know how many awards they give out during the telecast? I think it was fewer than 10. And it took them just under four hours to do it. YOU ARE OVERBOOKING, GRAMMYS.
There were a lot of performances, but the standouts alone would have sufficed. For my money, they were:
1. Daft Punk with Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder, “Get Lucky.” In addition to the quality performance (Stevie Wonder should guest on all songs by all artists from now on), they had easily the best stage set in, I believe, Grammy history. It was a sick-looking ’70s-era recording studio, in which the robot duo appeared from behind the control room glass. Inspired.
2. Imagine Dragons with Kendrick Lamar, “MADD City/Radioactive.” It’s easy to imagine dragons while listening to this band, cause you’re usually asleep and dreaming 20 seconds in. But with Kendrick Lamar to fire things up, this was a blistering co-performance.
3. Beyonce with Jay Z, “Drunk In Love.” No surprise here, this was a solid show-opener.
4. Sara Bareilles and Carole King, “Beautiful/Brave.” With a simple dueling piano setup, these two harmonized beautifully on a mashup of their two songs. Carole King continues to prove that she’s still a musical force, after over 50 years in the business.
Other: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited on a new Macca song “Queenie Eye,” which is hardly the best song on his new album. Ringo played drums alongside Paul’s (amazing) drummer Abe Laboriel, so it was really more of a photo-op than anything else. The way it’s been hyped, you’d think these guys haven’t played live together since 1970, but they have performed together several times over the years. Ringo also performed his ’70s hit “Photograph” (a nice plug for his new photobook), befuddling teenagers everywhere.
Kacey Musgraves performed her hit “Follow Your Arrow” as though she were at the Grand Ole Opry circa 1983, complete with light-up boots and shirts and neon cacti. I thought it was actually kind of a cool throwback, considering what popular country music has become. To wit, she beat Taylor Swift, who hasn’t actually released a country album since she was like 15, for Country Album of the Year.
Gary Clark Jr. and Keith Urban – this was nothing special musically, except that they are both great guitarists and each injected some much needed, old fashioned guitar soloing into the proceedings.
See the full list of winners below.
I imagine that there’s a certain feeling of flattery in being named one of the most illegally downloaded artists of the year. Musicmetric, which analyzes data from Bit Torrent, has revealed that at over five million downloads each, Bruno Mars and Rihanna earned the top spots in this category, while Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, and Flo Rida rounded out the top five. Also in the top 10 were Kanye West, Jay Z, Eminem, Drake, and Pitbull.
Gregory Mead of Musicmetric reminds readers that the analytics “don’t condone piracy,” but rather help artists plan around where their fans are, in order to optimize tours ” similar to what Iron Maiden has started doing. Musicmetric also measures social media success, and found Taylor Swift to be the winner, with an added 29.5 million new followers in 2013, with Katy Perry close behind at an added 29.2 million new followers.
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Christmas came a little early this year for Beyoncé fans. Dropping her self-titled fifth album exclusively through iTunes this morning, Beyoncé says about the surprise 14-track album, “I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it. I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn’t want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it’s ready and from me to my fans.”
The album features collaborations with husband Jay-Z, Frank Ocean, Drake, and more. View the track list below. As a bonus, you can now see preview video clips of each song, uploaded by Beyoncé to YouTube. And you should, since the singer is calling this a “visual album.”
In the 1950s and ’60s, ‘Pop’ art upended the staid world of fine art by incorporating elements from advertising, television, and consumer product packaging. It fundamentally shifted the public perception of visual art, redefined the acceptable subjects for the medium, and subtly exposed the supercilious pretension and meaningless market forces that governed the art world with shadowy power.
In 2013, Lady Gaga released ARTPOP. It has a track called “Sexxx Dreams,” and includes lyrics like, “Cuz that bitch, she’s so thin (oh la la la) / She’s so rich, and so blonde / She’s so fab, it’s beyond.”
This is not to discount her new album totally out of hand, (because, actually, her R. Kelly collaboration is pretty damn catchy) “ it’s just to say that Gaga’s self-proclaimed revolutionary pairing of high-brow art culture and pop music is actually very far from progressive, especially if you take her at her word about the motivation behind the project.
Gaga has stated that “the intention of the album was to put art culture into pop music, a reverse of Warhol.” So immediately it’s pretty obvious that she considers art and pop music to still exist in completely separate and non-overlapping spheres. This may be true, at least for the majority of serious artists who take on some projects for the sake of pure creativity, because they can’t not make art, and because even in a modern society that has devalued the role of the creators by overvaluing the distributors (ahem “ the Spotify model), they still see value in the process of making stuff for its own sake.
But Lady Gaga’s understanding of art culture seems a bit different. Her obsession and collaborations with huge art world names like Marina AbramoviÄ‡ and Jeff Koons feel a lot like her own admitted obsession with fame, a major, ongoing theme in her music and life. Coincidentally (or not), the artists that Gaga admires most are those that have been prominently in the public eye for years. They are the giants on the world stage. Koons, who designed the ARTPOP album cover, recently sold one of his statues for $58.4 million. It was a gigantic orange balloon dog.
Announced this morning, just hours after news broke that frequent collaborator Kanye West would also be hitting the road, Jay Z has plans to touch down in cities around the globe beginning the first week of November. Tickets for the new dates go on sale next Thursday, September 12. You can view the full itinerary below.
A Facebook pre-sale is planned for the Magna Carta tour, with an exclusive code being distributed to participating fans beginning Wednesday September 11. Information on accessing that code will vary by location, but will be revealed in the coming days on Jay Z’s page.
Jay’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, is available now. (more…)
Released with zero advance promotion on Thursday, August 30, Jay Z’s video for “Magna Carta” marks the second time he and Justin Timberlake have shared the small screen this year. Unlike “Suit & Tie,” however, the visuals for “Magna Carta” have a decidedly dark tone. Jay appears sequestered in a cavernous, dilapidated room, staring at stacks of grainy televisions, while Timberlake wanders through an abandoned mansion filled with well choreographed ghosts.
“Magna Carta” is the second video to be release from Jay Z in a month, following the debut of “Picasso Baby” on HBO. Jay is playing his cards close with future promotional plans, but rest assured we’ll update you as soon as new developments arise. Until then, comment below and let us know your thoughts on Jay’s latest video. (more…)